This Is Not My Day Job // Justin Bettman

We are all driven by passionate pursuits… Some of us are lucky enough to call it our job, others are sentenced to reserve our passion for weekend warrior adventures or and late night endeavors. In our new blog series “This Is Not My Day Job,” we  seek to explore the hidden artists and talents of the people who work in our industry. Some of us have found a creative balance in our work, others refuse to mix the two, but we all create. First up, Justin Bettman.


Artist: Justin Bettman

Medium: Photography

Day Job: Jr. Art Director // Ogilvy & Mather, NYC


MC: Is photography what brought you to the advertising industry?

JB: Yeah, it is. When I was in school I went to show my book to an Art Buyer at an ad agency, and I had the realization that it’d be really interesting to see the thought process that goes into an ad. I expressed this to the agency, and I ended up leaving the office with an internship.

MC: So you started in the industry right after school? 

JB: Yep!

MC: How does your photo work relate to your Agency job?

JB: I think working at an ad agency has given me a richer understanding of what goes into a strong advertising photograph. From concepting to strategy, I feel like the skills I’ve learned in the agency world translate to my photography work.

MC: How So?

JB: I learned that no matter how good you are at photography, sometimes it just comes down to luck. There are so many qualified photographers for each job that sometimes it is a matter of knowing the art directors or having one shot in your book that really relates to them. I think it has also taught me the importance of having a refined style so that when an art director wants a certain look, they think of you. I also get to see what type of work art directors are gravitating toward and can cater my photography towards that.

MC: As an artist, do you find the idea that “relationships” matter just as much as talent daunting?

JB: I don’t find it daunting. I think some photographers get so caught up in trying to work on their talent that they are never social or out meeting anyone. I think knowing this encourages me to lead a slightly more balanced life. Also, I think that is where the importance of a strong photo rep comes in, helping photographers start and foster these relationships.

MC: Knowing what you know from the Agency side, what would you have done differently with your early work?

JB: I don’t think I would’ve changed much. When I first started, I would find photographers that I liked and did everything I could to mimic their style. While I may not have grown as much creatively during this time period, I think I really started to master different lighting techniques. I never took a photo class, so this was my way to learn.  After I started feeling more comfortable with lighting and the technical side of photography, I think I was able to exercise my own creativity and develop my own style. I do still have a desire to do commercial work, and maybe if the time is right I’ll transition back into doing photography full time.

MC: So you didn’t go to school for Photo? What did you major in?

JB: I studied Entrepreneurship and Business.

MC: Your work is very grand in scale, and conceptual… what inspires you to work like this?

JB: Generally, locations often start the seed of an idea in my head. So a huge part of my process is location scouting. I like to run and bike, so whenever I’m out exercising I always try to find new locations. Once I find a location, I let the lighting set the mood and dictate the story.

MC: On to personal projects… Could you tell us more about your collaboration with Kait Robinson? And Tell us more about that project?

JB: When I first moved to NYC, I met Kait at a party. She had a camera and was taking pictures at the party, so I asked her for a link to her work. When I saw it, I was really impressed, particularly with her styling and casting. I think my strong points are lighting and location scouting; sometimes I focus so much on that and forget about the importance of casting and styling. So we decided to do a collaboration to utilize both of our strengths. I had the idea for a long time of a soldier coming back from war to find his wife cheating on him, and Kait really liked it. So we went location scouting on Long Island and found the perfect location and got permission. From there, Kait cast the models and did all the wardrobe. I did most of the lighting. Together we directed the scene and came up with a photo that I’m really proud of. It’s cool to see how the photo has a bit of both of us in it.

MC: With The Bagel Project, you say that the majority of the people you meet are content with their lives. Could you expand on that idea?

JB: In general people celebrate mediocrity, not only the people in The Bagel Project. The bar for success is set pretty low. In today’s world, people are happy if they get a steady paycheck, have a family, and a place to live; but the people who live extraordinary lives do not live balanced lives like this. Also, too often people compare themselves to those around them to measure success versus measuring success against what they personally think they’re capable of, and this leads to feeling content.

Being content means that you reached the goals that you set in your mind, which are almost often set too low. For these homeless people, their goal is to wake up the next day. For the guy in a BMW, it is probably to make $300,000 that year. And both the homeless people and the guy in the BMW reach their goals, leading them to feeling content.

MC: What are you trying to capture by photographing your subjects with their bagel?

JB: Photographing the subjects is my way of letting them tell their story without having to speak. The bagel wasn’t so much an important part of the photograph as it was a means of me giving them something in return for their time.

MC: Why a bagel?

JB: When starting this project, I was trying to think what is something that most people enjoy that is relatively healthy, easy to carry around, and doesn’t require any utensils and bagels popped into my mind. Also, growing up my family had bagels every Saturday morning, so I think that may have played a subconscious role in my decision.

MC: You say you trade stories for bagels… do you have a record of those stories? If so, do you plan on sharing them?

JB: On my blog I shared some of the stories. I’d like to continue the project and record the audio of the subjects telling their stories. In a gallery space, I would like to have the audio play next to each picture as a mixed media project.

MC: So now that you are in NYC, you plan on continuing The Bagel Project?

JB: Yeah, I would like to.


See full post here: Marilyn Cadenbach Blog2013-07-25.